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NYT Columnist Shares Views on U.S. Policy

During his hourlong lecture, the former speech writer for President Richard Nixon primarily discussed the crisis in the Middle East. He also made comments about officials in the Bush administration and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Calling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a friend, Safire laid blame for the problems in the region on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and defended Sharon against charges that the prime minister has been the instigator.

"With Sharon, you have a man who all his life has been demonized," Safire said. "He's not a demon -- he's a good man."

Safire related Israel's actions to the American retaliation to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, saying the recent spate of Palestinian suicide bombings has forced Israel to defend itself.

He said past attempts by American presidents to be a third-party mediator in the ongoing dispute have failed, mentioning a meeting between former President Bill Clinton, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat in July 2000. The three parties failed to work out a peace deal at the gathering.

An interesting aspect of the situation, Safire said, is the reaction he has noticed from American politicians.

Democrats, who traditionally receive the majority of American Jewish votes, have been vocal in encouraging Bush to be remain neutral, he said. Republicans have been more critical of the Palestinians, stressing the importance of keeping Israel as an ally.

"Go figure," Safire said.

Safire discussed criticism he has received from other journalists who have said he is Sharon's mouthpiece; Safire has quoted the prime minister in his columns for The New York Times.

"I agree with him, and he agrees with me," Safire said. "So I'll quote him." He noted, however, that he also has expressed views that differ from Sharon's.

Safire's speech was the sixth in the Roy H. Park Distinguished Lecture Series, named for a media mogul who had ties to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication before his death in 1993.

The veteran columnist also used his time to evaluate the way President George Bush's administration is handling the recent events in the Middle East.

Safire discussed Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the context of the problems in the Middle East. He characterized the two officials as having polar views about the nature of the peace process and the role of military action. He said he admires Bush for bringing the men together.

During a question-and-answer session, Safire elaborated on points he previously discussed.

Despite the difficulty he sees in finding a deal both Palestinians and Israelis would accept, Safire said people should not give up hope for eventual peace.

"You've got to be an optimist -- you can't say this thing is going to last forever," Safire said. "These things have a way of burning out."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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